The Bohemians: A Novel

The Bohemians: A Novel

The Bohemians: A Novel

The Bohemians: A Novel

Synopsis

While the marquis de Sade was drafting The 120 Days of Sodom in the Bastille, another libertine marquis in a nearby cell was also writing a novel—one equally outrageous, full of sex and slander, and more revealing for what it had to say about the conditions of writers and writing itself. Yet Sade's neighbor, the marquis de Pelleport, is almost completely unknown today, and his novel, Les Bohémiens, has nearly vanished. Only a half dozen copies are available in libraries throughout the world. This edition, the first in English, opens a window into the world of garret poets, literary adventurers, down-and-out philosophers, and Grub Street hacks writing in the waning days of the Ancien Régime.

The Bohemians tells the tale of a troupe of vagabond writer-philosophers and their sexual partners, wandering through the countryside of Champagne accompanied by a donkey loaded with their many unpublished manuscripts. They live off the land—for the most part by stealing chickens from peasants. They deliver endless philosophic harangues, one more absurd than the other, bawl and brawl like schoolchildren, copulate with each other, and pause only to gobble up whatever they can poach from the barnyards along their route.

Full of lively prose, parody, dialogue, double entendre, humor, outrageous incidents, social commentary, and obscenity, The Bohemians is a tour de force. As Robert Darnton writes in his introduction to the book, it spans several genres and can be read simultaneously as a picaresque novel, a roman à clef, a collection of essays, a libertine tract, and an autobiography. Rediscovered by Darnton and brought gloriously back to life in Vivian Folkenflik's translation, The Bohemians at last takes its place as a major work of eighteenth-century libertinism.

Excerpt

Robert Darnton

While the marquis de Sade was drafting The 120 Days of Sodom in the Bastille, another libertine marquis in a nearby cell was writing another novel–one equally outrageous, full of sex and slander, and more revealing for what it had to say about the conditions of writers and writing itself. Yet Sade’s neighbor, the marquis de Pelleport, is completely unknown today, and his novel, Les Bohémiens, has nearly vanished. Only a half-dozen copies are available in libraries throughout the world. This edition, the first since 1790, makes a major work of eighteenth-century libertinism accessible, and it also opens a window into the world of garret poets, literary adventurers, down-and-out philosophers, and Grub Street hacks. More than a century before La Bohème, it shows how bohemianism came into being.

Bohemianism belongs to the Belle Epoque. Puccini set it to music and fixed it firmly in late nineteenth-century Paris. But La Bohème, first performed in 1896, looked back to an earlier era, the pre-Haussmann Paris of Henry Murger’s Scènes de la vie de Bohème (Scenes from Life in Bohemia) first published in 1848. Murger drew on themes that echoed from the Paris of Balzac’s Illusions perdues (Lost Illusions, first part published in 1837), and Balzac’s imagination stretched back to the Ancien Régime, where it all began. But how did it begin? The earliest bohemians inhabited a rich cultural landscape, which has never been explored.

In the eighteenth century, the term Bohémiens generally referred to the inhabitants of Bohemia or, by extension, to Gypsies (Romany), but it had begun to acquire a figurative meaning, which denoted drifters who lived by their wits. Many pretended to be men of letters. In fact, by 1789, France had developed an enormous population of indigent authors–672 poets alone, ac-

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.